How Lent started with Passover

by Rabbi Evan Moffic

Many Christians and Jews know of the connection between Passover and Easter. But what about the connection between the 40 days of Lent and Passover?

Preparation is the Purpose

At first glance, Passover and engaging in the discipline of Lent seem to have little in common. We find the parallel, however, when we look at Passover more broadly. Passover includes the months of preparation for the meal itself. For Jews observing Passover, the preparation is just as important as the meal itself. We prepare by cleaning our homes of bread. We prepare by studying the Exodus story. We prepare through self-examination. Just as Lent prepares Christians for Easter, these actions prepare our bodies and souls to experience the Passover meal.

The Journey to Freedom

Both Lent and Passover preparation also draw their inspiration from the Exodus story. Lent traditionally lasts for 40 days. This number is derived from the time Jesus spent fasting in the desert after his baptism by the John the Baptist. These 40 days were preparation for proclaiming the message of salvation.

This number and purpose parallel the Israelite experience during the exodus. They lived in the wilderness for 40 years, their preparation for experiencing redemption in the Promised Land. The number 40 also reminds us of the 400 years of slavery the Bible tells us the Israelites experienced in Egypt.

A Time to be Reborn

A further connection is found in the notion of rebirth. Both Passover and Lent take place in the spring, the time when nature renews itself. Birth does not happen automatically. Just as a baby gestates in a mother’s womb for nine months, so the birth of the world requires preparation. Lent is that period of preparation. It culminates in Easter, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus and, effectively, the rebirth of humanity.

For Jews, Passover celebrates the rebirth of the Jewish people. During the four hundred years of slavery, the Israelites grew from a clan of 70 to a nation of over a million. When they left Egypt, they gained a new life in a new land with a new set of laws. The Passover meal is a time when we participate in that rebirth. We experience what the ancient Israelites experienced.

Thus, preparing for Passover is like getting ready to be reborn. So is Lent.

Rabbi Evan Moffic leads Congregation Solel in suburban Chicago. This was lifted from his blog Building Bridges/Deepening Faith.